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China endorses plan to tighten control of Hong Kong elections

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Leaders and delegates attend the closing session of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing
Leaders and delegates attend the closing session of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein
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China’s annual congress has approved government plans to reduce democratic representation in Hong Kong’s elections, following a wave of pro-democracy activism in the region.

In the latest move to tighten control of Hong Kong, a pro-Chinese government committee would get power to appoint more of Hong Kong’s lawmakers, reducing the number elected by the public, and to vet candidates.

The measure adds to a crackdown on a protest movement which calls for greater democratic rights, and follows the jailing of a number of pro-democracy activists.

On Thursday the ceremonial legislature at the National People’s Congress endorsed the Communist Party’s plan.

The Chinese government has dismissed complaints it is eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy, claiming the changes are needed to protect the territory’s stability.

The vote by delegates at the congress was 2,895 in favour, zero against, and one abstention, which reflects the body’s routine endorsement of party plans by almost unanimous votes.

The move will give an election committee - dominated by business people and pro-Beijing figures - a role in choosing members of Hong Kong’s legislature.

Wang Chen, a deputy chairman of the congress, said earlier this week the committee would choose a “relatively large” share of the Legislative Council and have the right to vet all candidates.

The spokesman for the US State Department said Washington condemns Beijing's "continuing assault on democratic institutions in Hong Kong."

"The changes approved by the National People's Congress today, on March 11, are a direct attack on Hong Kong's autonomy, its freedoms and democratic processes, limiting political participation, reducing democratic representation and stifling political debate," he added.

Britain's Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, said the plans are "the latest step by Beijing to hollow out the space for democratic debate in Hong Kong, contrary to the promises made by China itself".

"This can only further undermine confidence and trust in China living up to its international responsibilities and legal obligations, as a leading member of the international community," he added.

The Hong Kong leader, Carrie Lam, welcomed the change and said in a statement it will allow the territory to "resolve the problem of the LegCo making everything political in recent years and effectively deal with the reckless moves or internal rift that have torn Hong Kong apart."